Here's What Each Party Has to Lose from Doing Live TV Election Debates

Here's how each leader is going to embarrass themselves live on air, now that a leaders' debate is actually going to happen.

by Simon Childs
05 March 2015, 4:15pm

Party leaders last time around

Today, David Cameron finally caved to the demands of a baying mass of telly addicts and political journalists who had been deeply disappointed by the prospect of not watching him battle it out in a live party leaders' debate before the election.

As far as critics were concerned, up until now Cameron had been trying his best to get out of such a debate by making churlish demands about the format and timings. At one point, he was absolutely fuming at the idea of debating without representation for the Green Party, whose platform he famously loves and plugs at every opportunity. Then when it was decided that the SNP and Plaid Cymru were to be included, he pointed out that the idea of a nationwide TV debate without Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party giving their thoughts on the NHS would be, frankly, an insult to the license-fee payers of Norwich.

Cameron meanwhile, always insisted that that he did want a debate, and at last he has agreed to one seven-way slanging match at the beginning of April. But as the leaders limber up and practise their best put downs, you have to wonder if they would do well to avoid the whole, "going on TV and exposing all of your flaws and failings to millions of people one month before the biggest political event of the decade" thing. Here's how all the parties could end up losing out.

"Why are we all so poor? You said there'd be fewer immigrants but there are more? Why do you look like ham, mate?"

Why is Cameron bothering with this hassle when he could have just sat back and wait for Ed Miliband to be caught on camera failing to master some basic life skill, such as eating a bacon sandwich or passing a homeless person in the street?

It's obvious why the Tories had been stalling up until now: if Cameron has to defend his turd of a record in a live TV debate, he might actually end up looking worse than Ed, if you can imagine that.

Labour Party members (Photo by Adam Barnett)

Like the bullied kid at school on the day his tormentor shits himself in class, Ed Miliband had been making the most of the shellacking Cameron was receiving over not stepping up to the plate, even tweeting at him personally but doing that thing where you put a full stop in front of the tweet so everyone can see your zinger. However, he's probably feeling somewhat less smug now the debate is actually going to happen, as it will probably go terribly for him.

He'll have the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru all piling in with the kind of left-wing policies that his supporters wish he would adopt and which a large swathe of the general public would actually like – stuff like re-nationalising the railways and the Post Office, and maybe doing something serious about the housing crisis. That's three candidates taking up air-time making him look like a sell-out to his comrades. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage and Cameron will be challenging him to be meaner to immigrants and he'd be stuck doing a balancing act, trying to appease both sides and only succeeding in making elderly socialists cry.

Any victory will be a Pyrrhic one, as Labour's core problem – a massive, unresolved identity crisis – will play out to the nation, much more vividly than when it's only George Galloway's tweets making Ed look like a shill.

Nick Clegg measures his support (Photo by Liberal Democrats)

Lib Dems
Despite having made a generation of students distrustful of all politicians, Nick Clegg's whole thing these days is to position himself as an antidote to politicians – the one in the dead-centre who's going to rein those other idiots in and stop them doing anything too drastic. As such, the format of a seven-way TV squawk-off could work for him. He may be planning to just sit there, tutting and rolling his eyes and coming off as a sensible if hugely unspectacular candidate.

That said, everyone's stolen his "remembering to say the person who asked the question's name" schtick since that technique ignited Cleggmania before the last election. I can't really see #IAgreeWithNick taking off again, can you?

A guy who doesn't like UKIP (Photo by Oscar Webb)

This is essentially a high-stakes Question Time, so it will basically be the equivalent of New Year's Eve down the local for Nigel Farage. He will be able to go HAM on immigrants like no one else, safe in the knowledge that he wasn't going to get any votes from Guardian readers anyway. The same goes for the EU, where he can just repeat everything he said against Nick Clegg last year, and add some stuff about Cameron and Miliband not having a firm enough policy. Flipping the script, UKIP's lack of much to say about anything else could go either way, depending how good Farage is at riffing, which is usually pretty good.

The only thing he'll have to look out for will be saying something openly racist, because his supporters are always keen to insist they're definitely not racist and I'm sure he'd lose a ton of support if he ever did that live on air.

Natalie Bennett (Photo by Scottish Greens)

We all saw what Green Party leader Natalie Bennett admitted was an "excruciating" interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari, where she had a "mind blank" and totally forgot how the party would pay for its housing policy. Like a dodgy goalkeeper that players try to rattle by showering with long-shots, a TV debate will be fraught with candidates facetiously asking Natalie about the absolute minutiae of her policy – for instance, the tiny detail that one of their main anti-poverty policies might actually make people poorer.

The format won't give her time to explain anything properly, and David Cameron can just sort of smile and roll his eyes and say, "Oh, is that right? You're sure? You remembered your own policy this time? Well at least that's something." She'll awkwardly try to laugh it off and get back on track but by that point, in front of a fickle live TV audience, the damage will have been done.

Scottish independence supporters (Photo by James Turner)

The SNP and Plaid Cymru
It's difficult to see how the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon could possibly lose out here. Her only opponents worth speaking of in Scotland are Labour, who will be besieged from left and right.

Labour, the Tories and UKIP will play to their audiences by getting upset at her for trying to break up the union, but that's not going to make her look all that bad to the almost half of the Scottish population that voted Yes. The other just-more-than-half presumably weren't going to vote SNP anyway.

This will just be a chance to reel off some social democratic policies in front of a nation that has only one Tory MP – that and watch Ed Miliband squirm.

The same pretty much goes for Plaid Cymru, except to a lesser extent. The former mining villages of South Wales might still spit when they say "Thatcher", but elsewhere Wales has eight Tory MPs. And way fewer people give a shit about Welsh nationalism.


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